Fitting in

Shamira Fowler

A Puerto Rican student struggles to find her place on campus

Aurora Coll, freshman psychology major, stands below Dominican and Puerto Rican flags and photographs of friends and family. David Ranucci | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Sun shines through manila-colored curtains and the glowing red numbers of an alarm clock read “7:00” in a room on the fourth floor of Koonce Hall. With the screeching buzz of the alarm, another day begins for Aurora Coll, a Puerto Rican student at Kent State.

Like many other students, she hits the snooze button several times, finally rises, takes a shower, brushes her teeth and puts on her clothes. After her morning routine, she waits at the bus stop in front of Wright Hall and boards the Campus Loop to her first class. Coll is not the usual freshman. She is a minority student who not only has to adjust to college life, but she must also adjust to being a minority student on a predominantly white campus. While some students may feel a tinge of homesickness, the feeling is more intense for Coll.

A sprinkle on the sundae

Coll, a freshman psychology major, sits down in the middle of Room 340 of Oscar Ritchie Hall, retrieves her notebook from her book bag and begins taking notes in Black Experience I. She is surrounded by a plethora of shades of skin and cultural backgrounds. Then she’s off to the next class – Seven Ideas that Shook the Universe.

The demographics of this class are a bit different. A sea of mostly white faces swallows Coll as she takes notes on physics and chemistry. The chemistry of this class, though, is not as diverse as a periodic table. The only other student in a group of about 200 students who looks as if he may be of Hispanic descent quietly listens to the lecture in the front of the class. Between scribbling the word “molecule” repeatedly, Coll text messages friends back home.

“If it wasn’t for my cell phone, . I’d go crazy,” Coll whispers. Coll’s lack of focus has a chance of hindering her academic performance, but it’s a chance she is willing to take in order to stay in contact with the people she misses. Text messaging is an easy, fast way for Coll to keep in touch with her family and friends. She spent most of her life playing “mom” to her younger brother and now must recognize her new role: Note-taking student.

The make-up of this class resembles many other classes in Smith Hall. In fact, it’s probably an appropriate representation of the entire Kent State campus. Many minorities here say Kent State is like a big sundae – white creating an abundance of vanilla ice cream while minority students amount to a few sprinkles. That’s about 82.7 percent vanilla ice cream and 13.1 percent sprinkles, to be exact. With approximately 22,000 undergraduates attending the main campus, 1.5 percent are Hispanic, according to the Office of Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness.

“I’ve seen like three (other Puerto Ricans),” she says, shaking her head.

Although Coll says she misses her friends, she knew it was time for a change. She says she decided she wanted a better life for herself, which is why she insisted on coming to Kent State instead of the community college many of her friends were attending in Puerto Rico.

Lonely afternoons

Class is finally dismissed and Coll makes her way back to her residence hall for lunch. Despite the liveliness of Tri-Towers’ Rosie’s Diner, Coll retreats to her room to eat her meal: a box of Friday’s microwavable buffalo wings and a bundle of grapes. Coll pops a purple grape into her mouth as reruns of “That 70’s Show” make a racket in the background.

“I really wished they played my soaps. ‘Sin Tetas No Hay Paraíso.'” Translation: “Without breasts there is no paradise.”

Coll’s roommate, Ayaka Tamei is another student adjusting to her new, mostly white, English-speaking surroundings. Tamei, a freshman English as a second language major, is from Japan. Both roommates feel disconnected from the campus and spend most of their time in their room. Both have thick accents, making it difficult for them to communicate with each other. Conversations are usually left to three words or less, whether they like it or not. Unlike Coll, Tamei has a friend who is also from Japan and whom she visits to watch movies on Tamei’s laptop. Coll said she usually watches the television quietly while Tamei and her friend giggle in the corner.

“I mean, she seems really nice, but it’s just too hard to communicate,” Coll says.

Yearning for her roots

After lunch, Coll puts on a blue-gray dining services T-shirt and heads downstairs to Rosie’s Diner, her place of employment. Today, Coll’s station is the deep fryers. The odor of hot grease invades her nostrils, clothes and hair. Coll wipes sweat from her brow as she drops another batch of chicken tenders into hot, bubbling grease.

After yet another day of fried foods, it’s finally time to relax. Coll heads back upstairs to her bedroom. Puerto Rican and Dominican flags adorn the bedroom’s walls, small statues that praise Puerto Rico and depict sun rises and dancing dolphins are placed on her desk. Coll lets her eyes wander over pictures of people who look just like her: her grandmother, her parents, her siblings and her best friend. She lets out a deep sigh before getting into her extra-long twin-size bed. She closes her eyes and waits – waits until the next time she can hit the snooze button and begin another day as a Puerto Rican at Kent State.

Contact features correspondent Shamira Fowler at [email protected].